Intimacy avoidance is a common challenge that affects many marriages. It often stems from an insecure attachment style developed in childhood, particularly an avoidant attachment style.1 For simplicity, this article will focus on men with avoidant attachment, as research has found this is more common, while women are more often anxiously attached.2 However, intimacy avoidance can affect people of all genders.

Attachment Styles and Relationships

Attachment theory provides a framework for understanding patterns of behavior in romantic relationships. The four main attachment styles are:3

  • Secure: Positive view of self and others
  • Anxious: Negative view of self, positive view of others
  • Avoidant: Positive view of self, negative view of others
  • Disorganized: Negative view of self and others

While we develop a primary attachment style in early childhood based on interactions with caregivers, most people are a mix of styles. An insecure avoidant attachment in childhood often leads to avoidant behavior in adult relationships.

Causes of Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment usually develops due to parenting characterized by emotional distance, rejection, humiliation or excessive teasing.4 The child learns to suppress their emotional needs and develops a negative view of depending on others.

As adults, avoidantly attached individuals deeply desire acceptance and intimacy, but cope by minimizing their needs and detaching emotionally.5 Their self-protective instincts lead them to avoid closeness and vulnerability.

Challenges in Avoidant Marriages

Relationships with an avoidant partner can start out intense and passionate but become distant over time. The avoidant spouse may feel trapped, act distant, or nitpick their partner’s flaws.6 The non-avoidant partner often feels lonely, rejected and confused by their spouse’s hot-and-cold behavior.

Avoidant individuals struggle to openly share feelings, commit, and tolerate the normal ups and downs of intimacy. They may feel a need to control the relationship to avoid rejection.7

Treatment Approaches

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help avoidant individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns driving their behavior. Mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches are also helpful for increasing comfort with emotions.8

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can facilitate better understanding of each partner’s attachment style, unmet needs, and emotional triggers. The therapist may address issues like depression, anxiety or substance abuse that are compounding the avoidance.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is an attachment-based approach that helps the couple access vulnerable emotions underlying the avoidant-pursuer cycle. The avoidant partner learns to turn towards their spouse for comfort and security.9


With support and effort, avoidantly attached individuals can earn “earned security” and develop the skills for lasting intimacy.10 Change happens gradually, through many small moments of staying emotionally engaged.

If you recognize yourself or your spouse in this post, consider reaching out for professional help. With self-awareness, compassion, and a shared vision for your marriage, it’s possible to cultivate a fulfilling, securely attached relationship.

Practical Takeaways

  • Educate yourself about attachment styles and be compassionate about the origins of avoidant behavior. It stems from self-protection, not lack of love.
  • Notice your thoughts and feelings when your avoidant partner withdraws. Recognize your attachment triggers to avoid taking distance personally.
  • Express your needs clearly and calmly. Criticism and blame will only reinforce an avoidant stance.
  • Celebrate small moments of connection and vulnerability. Express appreciation for your partner’s efforts to engage, even if they are imperfect.
  • Prioritize individual growth alongside relationship work. As you each develop more secure attachment, your marriage will naturally become a safer haven.


  1. Dinh, T. (2022). The Intimacy Avoidant: An Exploration of Avoidant Attachment in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 39(6), 1736-1759.
  2. Del Giudice, M. (2021). The Evolutionary Psychology of Attachment. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 81-106.
  3. Fraley, R. C. (2019). Attachment in adulthood: Recent developments, emerging debates, and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 401-422.
  4. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2018). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.
  5. Fraley, R. C., & Hudson, N. W. (2017). The development of attachment styles. In J. Specht (Ed.), Personality Development Across the Lifespan (pp. 275-292). Academic Press.
  6. Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 19-24.
  7. Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. Penguin.
  8. Stanton, S. C., & Campbell, L. (2016). Attachment avoidance and amends-making: A case advocating the need for attempting to replicate one’s own work. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 62, 42-48.
  9. Johnson, S. M. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications.
  10. Taylor, P., Rietzschel, J., Danquah, A., & Berry, K. (2015). Changes in attachment representations during psychological therapy. Psychotherapy Research, 25(2), 222-238.